Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
People call movies like Avatar (dir. James Cameron) (2009) “epics.” Do post-modern movies like Avatar mimic the ancient Greek poet Homer’s pre-modern epic, the Odyssey? What can we learn about any nation’s interests and concerns today from its engagement with the masterpieces of either its own tradition or with other traditions from a different time and place? How do the world’s literatures circulate around the globe? In Comparative Literature 60A, we read some of the greatest texts of World Literature – from the ancient Greek, Argentine, English, French-Caribbean, German, Irish, Nigerian, Persian, and U.S. traditions – in dialogue with one another as a way of answering these questions. Texts include the poems of the 14th century Persian poet and mystic Hafiz in various translations and as they were read by the 19th century German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; the Persian poet Firdowsi’s 10th century epic, the Shahnameh, and its afterlife in miniature illustrations, oral recitations in coffee houses, and re-significations as Iran’s national epic; the British medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales as they have been taken up by the contemporary British-Nigerian rapper and performance artist Patience Agbabi (b. 1965); the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles’ Antigone (442 b.c.e.) as it is retold in Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa play (1986); Sophocles’ Philoctetes (409 b.c.e.) as it dialogues with Irish playwright Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy (1990 /1991) and the U.S poet Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty One Love Poems” (1974-76); Euripides’ Bacchae (405 b.c.e.) in conversation with Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (1973), and Shakespeare’s Tempest (1611) in dialogue with French Caribbean writer Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest (1969) and as it was performed by inmates at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in La Grange, Kentucky, in 2005. - These dialogues will help us understand the many ways that the traditions we study can have multiple afterlives across traditions and around the world.

Comparative Literature 60A is the first quarter of the “World Literature” track in the Comp. Lit. major, but the course is open to all students. It fulfills the GE IV and VIII campus-wide requirements.

Requirements for this course include: Doing the assigned readings, watching the lecture videos, watching two movies and short film clips, quizzes, Discussion Board posts on the readings, and Workshop Exercises on the readings. There is no midterm or final in this course.
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We will begin by exploring the Iranian concept of culture, farhang, whose origins can be traced to Middle Persian and pre-Islamic times. While we will examine the transformations the concept has undergone, we will focus on two decisive junctures: the Constitutional Revolution 1905-11 and the 1979 revolution, also known as the Islamic Revolution. The Constitutional Revolution was informed by Iran’s encounters with the world beyond its borders and an accompanying awareness of the need to modernize the country and its educational and cultural institutions. Refashioning Iran into a modern nation required a revaluation and overhaul of indigenous forms of cultural expression, but not without generating critiques such as that of the Iranian writer and intellectual, Jalal Al-e-Ahmad’s Westitis, which likened the uncritical adoption of Western norms to a disease. The 1979 revolution ushered in a radical shift toward Islam and Shi’ism as a means of restoring Iran’s cultural identity. We will study the effect of these two moments of rupture and reform through essays, short stories, poems, documentaries, film, and music videos to tease out gaps as well as continuities that continue to shape Iran’s self-representations in the domain of culture.
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